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May 27, 2013 | by  | in Features |
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A Space of One’s Own

Closing the door behind you, you have entered the grotto. Fairy lights cast shadows across the various band posters and frozen smiles captured in photographs, which cover the walls. It would appear a full suitcase decided to take its own life here some days ago, splattering its contents across every surface. A stack of papers followed suit shortly after. Half-drunk cups of tea and a hint of incense create a strange sweet aroma. This is my home, my personality embodied in a two-by-four- metre room.

Although we sentimentalise our childhood environments, as adults, many question the significance of having a space to call our own, or the wider importance of architecture. Scepticism of interior design is common; what really is the significance of curtain colour or sofa size? There is a negative connotation attached to valuing appearances and aesthetic, because we associate it with vanity and superficiality.

Ancient Greek philosopher Epictetus asked: “If you really understand what governs the universe, how can you yearn for bits of stone and pretty rock?” It seems an inappropriate subject to broach with his distraught best friend, whose house had just burnt down, but the question holds value all the same. To survive, all you really need is warmth, food, sunlight, and a comfortable-enough pile of leaves to get your recommended eight hours a night. Countless religious figures have cleansed themselves of distractions and possessions in order to achieve some higher appreciation of life. Peace is found in simplicity, but I simply cannot reconcile this with the fact that I really do sleep better after a cup of tea and an episode of Sherlock in a candlelit room.

Perhaps we should simply rejoice in the fact that happy coincidences reconcile the practical with the beautiful sometimes. The house has windows to let in light, but also to allow us to look out over the valley while we eat our Weet-Bix. The ceilings have lighting fixtures to hold light bulbs, but these also present a wonderful opportunity for a tasselled lampshade, or somewhere to hang streamers on Lucy’s birthday. The doors help muffle the sounds of flatmates making 3-am toasties, but also provide a sense of undisturbed serenity and privacy. The locks on those doors keep out thieves, but more often are employed to simply allow us to choose to spend time alone when we need it.

But the practical purposes of architectural intelligence extend beyond simply making our flats seem that little more habitable. Indeed, the Yale Law Journal suggests that the high crime rates of inner cities are related to the physical environment rather than the conventional explanations (poverty, unemployment, poor schools, and the like). Pieces of research from the paper establish four architectural concepts that can used to decrease crime using architecture: increasing an area’s natural surveillance (its visibility and susceptibility to monitoring by private citizens), introducing territoriality (by demarcating private and semi-private spaces), reducing social isolation, and protecting potential targets. In this way, architecture can have a very real and tangible impact on our lives, helping us feel less vulnerable alone in the city.

The Christchurch rebuild provides architects and designers making buildings and public spaces with an opportunity to design a smart city which actively prevents crime through creativity. The Press explains that these professionals “don’t normally prevent crime. But there’s a growing movement afoot to make architects do just that, and if this movement gets legs, Christchurch could become a global leader in crime-fighting architecture.”

You may not even realise how much design and architecture influence your life. You probably didn’t know that the tacky “hospital-green” walls helped speed your healing process. You’ll never enjoy a leisurely meal in a fast-food restaurant because the hard plastic chairs keep you moving, encouraging fast turnover; elevator floor numbers and seat numbers on aeroplanes are all placed at or above eye level to help us avoid eye contact with others, and thus feel less crowded in these potentially claustrophobic environments. Environmental psychology reveals that architects influence, in subtle ways, the paths by which we live and think. As the designer of your own home environment, is it not therefore your job to create a space you love living in? We can’t exactly design our flats or afford to heat our homes, but we can create a personal space that we feel we belong in.

In the same way that I would rather have five boisterous flatmates than a kitchen that’s always clean, I will adamantly rejoice in my messy bedroom, and I will love the things that seem silly to hold on to. Review your space, and how you use it, and endeavour to create a place where you feel entirely yourself, and not the person your parents or employer or partner want you to be. This reads as an awfully philosophical way to justify how rarely I tidy my room, but seriously: pin ticket-stubs to your walls, hang posters and photos, keep your teddy bears and childhood, because your environment both reflects and inspires who you are. Make time to decorate, and never underestimate the power of architecture, it could save you from being shanked, aid a speedy medical recovery, or simply cheer you up on a cold shitty day, when you can wrap yourself up safe in your grotto and feel entirely at home.

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